Hay bales, bunting and bare feet: Inside Carrie and Boris Johnson’s secret surprise ‘festival chic’ wedding where the bride wore a £2,870 Costarellos dress and flowers in her hair and even the PM’s closest aides were kept in the dark




No10 said the PM and his new bride tied the knot in a ‘small ceremony’ at Westminster Cathedral yesterday afternoon – with a bigger celebration planned for next summer.

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Airlines’ fury at amber list debacle: Boris Johnson says we should only travel to medium risk countries in ‘extreme circumstances’… but 5m people have booked trips abroad



Travel bosses reacted with fury last night after Boris Johnson hardened his stance on trips to amber list countries.

The Prime Minister said families should visit medium-risk destinations only in ‘extreme circumstances’ and not for holidays.

On Monday he was less definitive, saying such trips should be for ‘pressing’ family or business reasons only.

Confusion reigned earlier this week when two Cabinet ministers suggested leisure breaks and visits to family and friends would be acceptable. Adding to the chaos health minister Lord Bethell claimed all holidays abroad were ‘dangerous’.

The contradictory messages have left holidaymakers and travel chiefs begging for clarity. 

Around five million Britons have booked amber list breaks this summer, leaving them in limbo over whether to cancel or re-book and hope their destination makes the green list.

On Monday the outright ban on foreign travel was replaced by a green, amber and red traffic light system grading different countries by their Covid risk level.

But amid concern over foreign variants, ministers then said that no one should go on holiday in an amber country even if they quarantined on return.

Writing in the Mail, Tim Alderslade of Airlines UK, which represents major carriers, said: ‘Just as our beleaguered travel and tourism companies have started to look ahead with hope, illogical, confusing and alarming messaging from ministers risk the whole system unravelling before it has even had a chance to get going.

‘Why demonise those who have decided to travel to an amber country in full knowledge of the extra health measures, including quarantine, that are put in place to guard against any additional risk from Covid?’

George Morgan-Grenville, of luxury tour operator Red Savannah, said the traffic light system was ‘lunacy’. He added: ‘What is the point of the amber list? You may as well make the amber list the red list. What’s the point of having a passport? What’s the point of legalising travel again, only to say that you can’t travel?’

Julia Lo Bue-Said, of Advantage Travel Partnership, said: ‘This is typical nanny state tactics. Surely the British public can make up their own mind if they wish to quarantine in order to visit an amber country. As long as protocols are followed, testing is in place and rules in the destination are adhered to we see no reason why we cannot be allowed to travel safely to amber destinations for leisure. Otherwise, make those amber countries red.’

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer confronted Mr Johnson over the fiasco at PMQs in the Commons yesterday, accusing ministers of having ‘lost control of the messaging’.

He added: ‘If he doesn’t want people to travel to amber list countries, why has he made it easier for them to do so?’

Mr Johnson replied: ‘It is very, very clear Mr Speaker. You should not be going to an amber list country except for some extreme circumstance, such as the serious illness of a family member. You should not be going to an amber list country on holiday. And if you do go to an amber list country we will enforce the ten-day quarantine period and if you break the rules you face very substantial fines.’

At a Downing Street press conference last night Mr Hancock said: ‘If you look at what the PM said last week, what I said at the weekend, what I said in the House on Monday, what the PM said at lunch today, we’ve been absolutely crystal clear – that you should not go to an amber or red list country on holiday. You should only go for exceptional circumstances. An example might be to visit a very ill family member or to go to a funeral of somebody very close to you.’

Of the decision not to ban amber travel completely, he added: ‘There are some things that we have banned in law but there are some things we do not recommend. You don’t necessarily have to ban everything as a government minister.’

Just 12 destinations are green, with most in remote parts of the world or with strict entry measures in place or outright bans on British tourists.

And in a further blow, there were reports last night that no new countries will join the green list ‘for some considerable time’. It means beach holidays to popular hotspots such as Spain, Italy and Greece may not be possible until July or even August.

Appearing on ITV’s Peston show last night, Michael O’Leary of Ryanair was asked if he understood the UK travel rules. ‘No and I think most of the UK population doesn’t understand them either,’ he replied. ‘But I’m happy to say that for about the past four weeks they’ve been booking in their droves, mainly I think they’re booking into June, July, August, and September.

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Why Boris Johnson is recreating Tony Blair’s “delivery unit”


MICHAEL BARBER helped Tony Blair to get stuff done. In 2001 he established a “delivery unit” that translated lofty ambitions into measurable goals—regarding children’s literacy, say, or hospital waiting times—and pursued them relentlessly. This was not always popular. Reflecting a common gripe, one Daily Telegraph columnist raged against the “grinding and dehumanising imposition” of targets reminiscent of Soviet central planning.

That columnist, now prime minister, has come round to targets. Following a request from Boris Johnson, Sir Michael has since Christmas been hard at work recreating the delivery unit. Brexit and covid-19 are starting to take up less time, and Mr Johnson wishes to reshape the country to the tastes of his new electorate: northern, non-graduate and Brexit-leaning. In the Queen’s Speech on May 11th, the prime minister promised more housebuilding, more technical education, new train lines, new free ports and a new post-Brexit subsidy regime—brought into being by a more interventionist government.

Covid-19 has left Mr Johnson in charge of a wartime state. Some £303bn ($430bn) went on combating the pandemic in the year to March, driving public debt from 84% of GDP to nearly 100%, its highest ratio since the 1960s. A government quite unprepared for the crisis scrambled to build…

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Boris Johnson is saying ‘no’ to Scotland – but the world is watching



ONE of the more important things about Ian Blackford standing up and delivering his speech is that it is beamed unedited worldwide.

All those news outlets that congratulated the spectacular independence majority in Holyrood will have been watching, and I rather think that Johnson knows that – hence he did not answer! Well, that, and he is a petulant, spoiled man child that has never, at a guess, had the word “no” directed at him.

Johnson cannot cope with defeat, he cannot cope with having to do the will of others, and certainly does not register in his overly privileged Oxbridge mind the right of the democratic will.

I have mentioned before that Johnson is a populist leader, and like all populist leaders he is only able to function when things are going his way. As such, he now realises that Scotland has at the ballot box endorsed it’s right to hold a second referendum on independence. With that, I strongly suspect that he also knows he has no-one in the Downing Street Cabinet nor at the cross-party level to successfully lead a campaign to keep Scotland in the Union.

All throughout the Oxbridge sow’s manipulative apparatus, klaxons of alarm will be sounding – all except that whimper you hear, for that will be DRoss finally realising that far from being some incarnate of the leopard sent north to quell rebellious lands, he was in fact set up at the ballot box to be the sacrificial lamb.

Expect much propaganda in the coming months, but also expect come August things to go the way of a constitutional crisis – and as Ian says in his address, Johnson will not win his fight with democracy.

Cliff Purvis

Veterans For Scottish Independence 2.0

THE prevalent and obvious tactical voting by Unionist parties raises difficult moral and practical questions for how politics works. Is it the valid exercise of an individual’s free choice? How dishonest is it to vote for a party whose aims you may disagree with to attack another party? And worse, are voters being covertly organised to vote tactically? Will parties start openly advocating tactical voting to achieve their aims? How distorted has politics already become by this behaviour?

And on the nationalist side, could it be argued that parties like Alba are in fact guilty of exactly the same behaviour, of trying to “game” the system in order to maximise the effect of the nationalist vote, in retaliation against the Unionist gaming? The whole thing’s a mess and maybe both sides are looking to shortcut the political process.

You would almost have to ask yourself, wouldn’t it be better – clearer and more honest – if voters were presented not with a plethora of big and small parties to choose from, but with a clear choice between two options: independence and dependence. Hang on, that’s a referendum, isn’t it?

Until a referendum clarifies matters, I think we could all stop wasting our time arguing among ourselves about these process issues. Why don’t we just work away patiently and consistently in our local patches, find the undecided and persuadable voters, and talk to them. That reminds me of something too: traditional political activism. As soon as Covid-19 restrictions allow, let’s get on with it.

Derek Ball

Bearsden

KIRSTEEN Paterson’s excellent article “Scots engineer’s joy as world’s biggest hospital ship passes sea trials” (The National, May 11) raised my hopes and spirits for the rest of the day. Perhaps there is still a hint of humanity left in the world.

The Global Mercy, it seems, will carry out life-changing surgeries on more than 150,000 people during its expected 50-year lifespan. And will go into service in sub-Saharan Africa next year, crewed by 641 volunteers from around the world.

At the heart of the ship, six purpose-designed hospital decks will boast operating theatres and hospital wards for 200 patients plus laboratory, general outpatient, ophthalmology and dental clinics.

Sadly the vessel has been built in China, while what is left of Scotland’s shipbuilding industry is dedicated to churning out warships of various shapes and sizes, including the almost-£7 billion recently spent on the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carriers which may (hopefully) never see active service.

There is talk of a £200 million new Royal yacht to convey the Royals and their “hingers on” around their former colonies. I think most folk would put this mega vanity project rather far down their list of priorities.

Brian Lawson

Paisley

UNIONIST parties never miss an opportunity to claim that Scotland’s economy is subsidised to the tune of £6.3bn by the rest of the UK. The financial pages in the Tory press applaud the rise in value of the pound sterling and claim that this is partly because independence is off the table because the SNP didn’t achieve an outright majority from last week’s election.

Someone isn’t telling the truth.

Mike Underwood

Linlithgow



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What are you waiting for, Boris? UK’s Covid alert level is downgraded to THREE and PM will confirm easing of restrictions in England from Monday at 5pm briefing – but Tories and scientists demand June 21 date for ending lockdown is brought FORWARD



Britain’s Covid alert level was downgraded to three today because of the success of the vaccination roll-out and dwindling case numbers.

Health chiefs say infections, hospital admissions and deaths have ‘fallen consistently’ over the past few months, with social distancing efforts and the mammoth inoculation drive to thank.

The move to downgrade the alert level — agreed by all four of the UK’s chief medical officers and a senior NHS official — means the coronavirus is now only in ‘general circulation’ and transmission is no longer ‘high or rising exponentially’. 

It will be used as fuel for scientists and Tories desperate for a quicker return to normal. The Prime Minister has been repeatedly urged to stick to his ‘data, not dates’ pledge for easing restrictions in England.  

It comes as ministers hailed the prospect of ‘hugging and kissing again indoors’ today.

It comes as Boris Johnson prepares to announce a major loosening of Covid restrictions. The PM will use a 5pm briefing at Downing Street to confirm a significant relaxation of rules from May 17, saying the success of the vaccine rollout has given him room to manoeuvre.

With one in three adults now having had two jabs, friends and relatives will be able to hug for the first time in a year.

Pubs, restaurants and cafes across England will be able to seat customers inside again while gatherings of up to six people or two households will be allowed indoors.

Hotels, B&Bs, cinemas, theatres and museums are to reopen while limits on funeral mourners are scrapped.

In a round of interviews this morning, Health Minister Nadine Dorries said: ‘I am hopeful that we will all be hugging and kissing again soon indoors.’

Ms Dorries also set hares running by seeming to suggest the June 21 date for ending lockdown altogether could be brought forward – although No10 insisted Mr Johnson will not be making any announcements on that tonight. ‘It is data, not dates and the data is very good,’ Ms Dorries said.

Professor Sir John Bell said the nation was in a ‘very strong position’ to move forward with the easing of restrictions which will enable people to ‘try and get back to normal’.

Oxford University’s regius professor of medicine told ITV’s Good Morning Britain programme the prospect of people being able to hug their loved ones again was ‘great’.

On the Government’s roadmap, he said: ‘I think we’ll still probably go steady but perhaps a bit faster, I’ll be interested to see what the Government announces. I’m feeling pretty comfortable with where we are at the moment.’

Legislation in the Queen’s Speech tomorrow will be directed at the nation’s recovery from Covid-19, backing the NHS and spreading opportunity.  

As the daily Covid death toll fell to just two with 1,770 confirmed infections:

Mr Johnson will gather his ministers this morning to approve moving to step three of the roadmap out of lockdown next Monday after the Government said the latest data confirmed its four tests for easing restrictions had been met.

Officials believe that lifting the curbs is unlikely to risk a resurgence in virus infections.

At a press conference in Downing Street this evening, Mr Johnson will say: ‘The data reflects what we already knew – we are not going to let this virus beat us.

‘The roadmap remains on track, our successful vaccination programme continues – more than two thirds of adults in the UK have now had the first vaccine – and we can now look forward to unlocking cautiously but irreversibly.

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Boris Johnson facing probe over funding of 2019 holiday


Boris Johnson is being investigated by the MPs’ standards watchdog over the funding of his Caribbean holiday in late 2019.

Commons standards commissioner Kathryn Stone has confirmed she is looking into whether the PM correctly declared how the trip was paid for.

Mr Johnson has previously declared he received accommodation worth £15,000, covered by businessman David Ross.

No 10 has previously said it was properly registered.

Mr Ross, a co-founder of Carphone Warehouse, initially said he did not “pay any monies” for the trip to Mustique, a private island which is part of St Vincent and the Grenadines.

He later clarified that he had “facilitated” accommodation for the prime minister, and Mr Johnson’s declaration of a “benefit in kind” was “correct”.

The prime minister took the holiday with his then-partner Carrie Symonds, now his fiancée, between Boxing Day 2019 and 5 January 2020.

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Boris Johnson invites Scotland’s leader Nicola Sturgeon for crisis talks after her election win



UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has offered to hold crisis talks on the state of Britain’s union after Nicola Sturgeon led the pro-independence Scottish National Party to a fourth term.

The SNP fell one seat short of an overall majority in the Scottish parliament elections, securing 64 seats, but the final result still leaves Holyrood with a majority in favour of Scottish independence.

In her victory speech, Ms Sturgeon told supporters the result proved a second independence vote was the “will of the country” and that any Westminster politician who stood in the way was “picking a fight with the democratic wishes of the Scottish people”.

But Boris Johnson, in a letter to Ms Sturgeon, argued the UK was “best served when we work together” and called for a conversation about “our shared challenges” in recovering from the pandemic.

In a letter shared by No 10, the Prime Minister congratulated Ms Sturgeon on her re-election and said: “I would like to invite you to join me, UK Government colleagues and others at a summit meeting to discuss our shared challenges and how we can work together in the coming months and years to overcome them.

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick stressed that, despite the strong preference in Scotland for pro-independence parties, it would be a “grave error” to pursue another border poll.

The Cabinet minister told BBC News: “I don’t know what the future might hold but our sole focus right now must be on recovery, and I think being distracted in any way by talk of constitutional wrangles would be a grave error.”

The dispute over a follow-up referendum came as Labour recriminations began over its poor showing in local elections on Thursday.

Labour lost the Hartlepool by-election – with the northeast town voting for a Tory MP for the first time in 60 years – and incurred a net loss of six councils and more than 200 seats as voters in its traditional heartlands deserted the party.

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner was sacked on Saturday from her role as chairman and national campaign coordinator.

Prominent figures on the left of the party hit out at the move, with former shadow chancellor John McDonnell calling it a “cowardly avoidance of responsibility” by leader Sir Keir Starmer.

Labour fared better in Saturday’s results, producing surprise victories in the West of England and Cambridgeshire and Peterborough mayoral contests, while comfortably winning second terms in Greater Manchester and the Liverpool City Region.

In London, Labour’s Sadiq Khan had to wait late into the night to find out that he had won a second term as mayor in City Hall after fending off a challenge from Tory rival Shaun Bailey.

By the close of Saturday, with results in from 129 of 143 English councils, the Tories had a net gain of 11 authorities and more than 280 seats, while Labour had a net loss of six councils and more than 220 seats.

In Wales – as in Scotland and England – the party in power was rewarded by the voters.

Mark Drakeford’s Welsh Labour avoided the kind of electoral drubbing Sir Keir endured on Friday.

With the final declarations made on Saturday, Labour ended with exactly half the 60 seats in the Senedd – one short of an overall majority – equalling its best ever results.

First Minister Mr Drakeford, who extended the majority for his Cardiff West seat by more than 10,000 votes, vowed to be “radical” and “ambitious” in government.

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Scotland’s future on a ‘knife edge’: Nicola Sturgeon admits SNP hopes of majority will go down to wire as Boris Johnson blasts her plan for new independence referendum as ‘irresponsible and reckless’



Nicola Sturgeon was today aiming to push ahead with plans for a second Scottish independence referendum as Boris Johnson set himself on course for a dramatic constitutional clash with her in his defence of the Union as the tight election count resumed in Scotland today. 

The tense parliamentary contest looked on track for a record turnout, despite fears that the pandemic and poor weather would dent voter numbers – with the Scottish National Party leader admitting her hopes of a majority were on a ‘knife edge’, but it is ‘almost certain’ the SNP will win its fourth term in power at Holyrood.

Ms Sturgeon said ‘when the time is right’ she will offer Scots ‘the choice of a better future’ in a second referendum on independence – but Mr Johnson hit back, insisting he would not back the ‘irresponsible’ move, and senior minister George Eustice warned it was the wrong time to be considering another plebiscite.

Achieving the 65 seats needed for an outright victory in Scotland could make it harder for the PM to refuse, but if the SNP falls short of that target it could still achieve a majority for a referendum with the help of the Greens.

With 49 of the 73 constituency results declared in Scotland by noon today, the SNP had 40 seats, Liberal Democrats four, Conservatives three and Labour two. 

The SNP made it to 40 seats this morning as they held Aberdeenshire East in the only result declared so far on Saturday. Gillian Martin retained her seat with 18,307 votes, with Conservative candidate Stewart Whyte taking second place on 16,418 votes. The Liberal Democrats won 3,396 votes and Labour 2,900.

Some constituencies are still to be counted today, when the crucial regional list results of 56 regional MSPs will also be declared. Traditional overnight counts were abandoned after Thursday’s election due to Covid-19. 

Ms Sturgeon, who comfortably defeated Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar to claim Glasgow Southside yesterday, said afterwards: ‘My focus, if we are re-elected as the government, is to get back to work to steer the country through the crisis and into recovery.

‘That remains the case. But once the crisis is over, and if there is a majority in the parliament for an independence referendum, people should have the right to choose our future. Scotland’s future should always be in Scotland’s hands.’

Speaking about the prospect of winning an overall majority, the SNP leader said: ‘It’s certainly not impossible, but nor is it guaranteed.

‘That was always going to be on a knife edge, it comes down to a small number of votes in a small number of seats, so at this midway point it is certainly still there as a possibility, but I have never taken that for granted.

‘It is a long shot, to say the least, in a PR (proportional representation) system, to win a majority – you effectively have to break the system. I would like to do it, but I have never been complacent about that.’

It comes as Labour this morning blamed the pandemic for ‘restricting’ the opportunities’ for its politicians to campaign across Britain after the Conservatives racked up a string of stunning poll victories in the local elections.

Labour will hope for better results today after a bruising Friday. With results in from 84 of 143 English councils, the Tories had a net gain of seven authorities and 173 seats, while Labour had a net loss of four councils and 164 seats.

In London’s mayoral contest, Labour’s Sadiq Khan goes into today with a lead of 24,267 first preference votes over Tory rival Shaun Bailey after the first seven constituencies declared, a closer contest than many had predicted.

Labour was thrashed in the Hartlepool by-election, with Jill Mortimer securing a majority of almost 7,000, while Tory Ben Houchen won a second term as mayor of Tees Valley with a whopping 73 per cent share of the vote.

And the Tories gained control of a series of councils, including Northumberland, Nottinghamshire, Dudley, Harlow and Nuneaton and Bedworth – reversing the mid-term slump often suffered by governing parties.

With the Conservatives also winning seats across the West Midlands, senior figures were confident that the region’s mayor Andy Street will secure a second term in office when returns there are announced today. 

Meanwhile counting began of the 714,745 votes cast in the Greater Manchester Combined Authority Mayoral elections this morning, with incumbent Andy Burnham widely expected to win the poll. Burnham won 63.4 per cent of the votes cast in 2017 and turnout is up around 5 per cent on the last election, to 34.7 per cent.

The outcome of the first round of voting is expected around 3pm, although with Mr Burnham running for a second term and nine candidates in all, the election could go to a second round, with second preference votes also then counted to decide the winner.

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Why Boris Johnson wants to clip London’s wings


HAMMERSMITH BRIDGE has been closed to all traffic for the past nine months. The fine Victorian structure in west London is cracking and could collapse at any moment; the borough that owns the bridge cannot afford to fix it. In a rational world, the government would shell out for repairs, says Tony Travers of the London School of Economics. But Hammersmith Bridge happens to connect one wealthy part of London with another part, and the government is loth to be seen spending money for their benefit.

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From a great height, London has fallen hard in the past year. Covid-19 hit the capital first, killing people before doctors understood the disease. Commuters and tourists have vanished, hobbling the city’s large service economy—no British region has suffered a sharper rise in unemployment. Yet the capital’s biggest problem is political. The government of London has badly fallen out with the national government. That is already harming the city; eventually, the entire country will suffer.

On May 6th, as The Economist went to press, London was going to the polls. Bookies had been offering odds on the re-election of Sadiq Khan, the Labour mayor, at 1/100—if you put £100 on him and he won, you would make £1. Shaun Bailey, the Conservative candidate, ran a poor campaign, and the government appeared to have abandoned the city to Labour. Mr Khan spent much time attacking not his opponents but his predecessor, now the prime minister, Boris Johnson.

His manifesto claimed that Mr Johnson leads “the most anti-London government in recent history”. The prime minister bashes the mayor whenever possible; in early April he even criticised Mr Khan’s transport policies during a press conference about covid-19. Mayors and prime ministers have tussled before. But “the tension has never been quite as visible or quite as vocal,” says Jack Brown, who studies the city at King’s College London.

The row began soon after the Brexit vote in 2016, when the newly elected Mr Khan tried to position himself as a champion of business-friendly internationalism. He argued that the then-prime minister, Theresa May, was “a disaster” for London because she was neglecting infrastructure, impoverishing public services and pursuing a hard Brexit that would harm the city.

That was a crude caricature of Mrs May, but a fairer analysis of Mr Johnson. The current prime minister personally dislikes the mayor, who he believes is inexplicably popular, and has long wanted him cut down to size. The covid-19 pandemic and a change in Britain’s political geography have given him the means and the incentive to do just that.

Covid-19 has scared Londoners off trains and buses, forcing Transport for London (TfL) to beg the Treasury for money. The government has extracted a heavy price for its support. It has forced the mayor to raise the congestion charge paid by drivers entering central London, insisted on fare increases on public transport, and allowed itself to appoint two special representatives to TfL’s board. Since the mayor has more power over transport than anything else, this clips his wings. And it certainly looks as though that is the government’s aim. Railway and bus companies outside London were given longer-term bail-outs, with fewer conditions.

The other big thing that the mayor controls is strategic planning. There, too, the government has crimped his power. In March 2020 the housing secretary, Robert Jenrick, rejected the London Plan—a document that sets priorities for development. Mr Khan was forced to rewrite parts of it. He had wanted the London green belt to be off limits to new housing, for example. Building there will now be allowed in “very special circumstances”.

The changes to the London Plan are not hugely consequential. But Mr Jenrick’s argument that he had to intervene because London’s record on homebuilding under Mr Khan was “deeply disappointing” is dubious. In the 2019-20 fiscal year London added 42,000 net dwelling units—more than any other English region and the highest figure since the turn of the century. The point of the intervention seems to have been simply to demonstrate that the government could overrule the mayor and hold up his plan for a year.

In March the government announced that it would introduce a “first past the post” voting system in London and other metropolises for future elections. At present Londoners can cast two votes for mayor. If a voter’s first preference is not among the front-runners, his or her second-preference vote is counted. Moving from that “supplementary vote” system to first-past-the-post is unlikely to produce different winners, says Patrick Dunleavy, a political scientist who helped create London’s voting system two decades ago. But it will reduce mayors’ personal mandates and their legitimacy. Mr Khan is usually said to have won 57% of the vote at the last election in 2016, not the 44% he got before second-preference votes were tallied.

That change will endure even in the unlikely event that Mr Khan fails to win a second term. So will another one. The government used to assess bids for large infrastructure projects largely by using benefit-cost ratios. That suited the capital: because it is so productive, dealing with a travel bottleneck there often seems like excellent value for money. But last year the Treasury rules changed. The government will now conduct “place-based” analyses. It might, for example, consider that boosting incomes in a poor area would make a bigger difference to people’s lives than boosting incomes in a richer area. The changes will make it easier to justify funnelling money to parts of Britain that are poorer than London—which is to say, almost everywhere.

Not surprisingly, the current mayor has accused the government of doing London down, and the government has not exactly denied it. It is more interested in courting voters in the former industrial heartlands of the north and Midlands, some of whom resent London’s power. “It plays well to Boris’s base to be seen to be tough on London, and it plays well with Sadiq’s base to be seen to be standing up to the government,” says a former London Tory MP.

But the fracas is not at all good for London. When the mayor blames the central government for the capital’s problems, and the government retorts that London is badly run, the overall effect is to tarnish the city in the eyes of potential investors and immigrants. “Everyone can have policy differences, but being engaged in a tribal war is not helpful,” says Richard Burge, head of the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, a lobby group.

What harms London is likely to harm the entire country in the long run. The capital funds the rest of Britain: in 2018-19 its net fiscal surplus amounted to £4,350 per person, far more than any other region. And together with Manchester and Scotland, London is one of the engines of devolution. Responsibilities and powers are handed out to them first, then handed to other regions. If Westminster grabs power back from London, the engine is thrown into reverse.

“Cities can turn,” says Rory Stewart, a former Tory minister who ran for mayor as an independent but dropped out of the race a year ago. London has been badly damaged by covid-19; parts of it, such as the West End, might not recover for years. And if the capital struggles, Britain will lose one of its remaining claims to global greatness. Mr Stewart says that many people would laugh at the idea that Britain has one of the world’s greatest armed forces. But Britain can reasonably claim to have one of the world’s greatest cities.

This article appeared in the Britain section of the print edition under the headline “Why London’s bridge is falling down”

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‘We are not close to winning’: Labour concedes defeat in the Hartlepool by-election as Boris Johnson and the Tories head for a historic victory and Sir Keir Starmer braces for more ‘grim’ results after ‘Super Thursday’ local ballots



Labour has conceded defeat in the Hartlepool by-election as the Tories head for a historic victory which will deliver a hammer blow to Sir Keir Starmer’s leadership. 

Shadow transport secretary Jim McMahon said ‘it is pretty clear from the way that the ballots are landing that we are not close to winning this’ and ‘we haven’t got over the line’.

Vote counting is still underway in the constituency which has been held by Labour since its inception in the 1970s and an official result appears to be some way off. 

But Mr McMahon left no room for doubt in his assessment, with Tories at the count believing they could win with a majority of several thousand while Labour sources said they feared they had lost ‘by miles’.  

Should the result be confirmed, it would represent a massive victory for Boris Johnson and a disastrous start to the UK-wide ‘Super Thursday’ elections for Sir Keir.

A defeat will pile the pressure on Sir Keir and reignite questions over whether he can reverse Labour’s fortunes ahead of the 2024 general election. 

Labour is now bracing for further bad news, with party sources predicting ‘grim’ results in council elections in England.  

Early declarations in some council seats in the north east of England appeared to show voters deserting Labour. 

Meanwhile, the Tories won all nine of the seats being contested in Redditch, the first council result of the night, as they gained seven seats from Labour. 

Sir Keir is said to be preparing a brutal reshuffle of his shadow cabinet within days as he tries to kickstart his leadership, with shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds and shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth tipped for demotion. 

Sir Keir is sounding out high-profile figures, including former work and pensions secretary Yvette Cooper, about a possible return to the Labour frontbench.

Frontbenchers regarded as strong media performers such as shadow schools minister Wes Streeting are being tipped for promotion. 

Sir Keir has said he will ‘carry the can’ if the local election results go badly, but he is expected to try to revitalise his top team amid concerns many of them have been under-performing. 

Another being lined up for the sack is thought to be shadow Commons leader Valerie Vaz, with a reshuffle pencilled in for the next week. 

In a sign that Sir Keir is expecting a difficult set of results, a Labour source said after the polls closed: ‘These were always going to be tough elections for Labour. Keir has always been honest about the mountain we must climb to rebuild trust to win the next general election.’   

The Hartlepool by-election outcome will be seen as a barometer for how the two main parties could do as the results of various elections trickle in over the next four days. 

The Conservatives had earlier sought to play down expectations in Hartlepool, with a Tory source saying it was ‘looking tough’ as ‘Labour have flooded the area with activists’. 

However, Pensions Minister Guy Opperman had painted a much more optimistic picture for the Tories as he predicted on Twitter shortly after the polls closed that Jill Mortimer would win the seat for the Conservatives. 

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick told Sky News that it would be ‘remarkable’ if the Tories win the seat as he added: ‘But if it is even close, I would say that is a really, really serious indictment of Keir Starmer.’ 

In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon faces a nervous wait to find out if the SNP has won a Holyrood majority – seen as crucial to her hopes of forcing a second independence referendum.     

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